In the fifties in primary schools in England
folk dancing was part of the PE curriculum,
usually for year 1 and year 2.
That was 10 to 11-year-olds and 8 to 9-year-olds.
The two years were scheduled on different days,
but the gramophone music was heard always.
Those who were not dancing that day
danced fingers backwards and forwards
over the books on their desks.
They passed secret notes around
with stick people in dancing positions
and names next to the figures.
On days when a teacher was absent,
years 1 and 2 had a combined lesson.
That was not popular with year 1.
They were convinced they were better than everyone
and resented being together with year 2,
who they steered clear of during playtime.
There were boys in year 2,
who had no idea of rhythm, place, or position.
When the teacher gave instructions
they fell about foolishly
and looked as if they were
dodging cars on a busy street.
They did not know their right from their left hand
and this misrule applied also to their feet.
They would shuffle and look blankly,
drop their heads and stare at the floor;
cross their legs as if waiting to pee
and wipe runny noses on their sleeves.
At the first folk dance lesson nobody
would hold hands with their partner,
protesting about boy and girl germs.
Their teacher shouted at them angrily
and threatened multiple detentions
if she heard those terms used again.
She would grab a boy to demonstrate
and the class would whisper and giggle,
passing around her nickname – Headlights.
During the dance her giant breasts jiggled
and flopped with heavy flobber
while she sprang about enthusiastically.
Most girls took to the steps easily and
hoped to partner boys who didn’t stumble.
They tried to guide them through slip steps
to stop them tripping.
Siding right to right, or left to left shoulders
was a huge problem for most of them.
They were in a state of constant confusion.
They trod on their own and other feet.
During the dance, they fell, faltered and lurched.
Even a basic call for position
sent them spinning into the next group,
then beyond, and into oblivion.
Those crashes didn’t seem deliberate.
Miss Flobber shouted that – return to
your partner – meant exactly that –
and dancing with linked arms was not
an excuse to dislocate a partner’s shoulder.
They could only master a single spin.
Miss Flobber had class lists of names
and she called out partners.
It was always funny when one was absent.
She was sure that they were in hiding.
The boys eagerly danced with a girl,
rather than be her nervous partner.
Miss Flobber learned to choose partners carefully.
She had observed both ability and bonding
and placed the awkward with the capable.
However, at the end of the lesson
she allowed free choice of partner
and the same people were always left out.
One day she announced that there would be,
for years 1 and 2, a joint lesson.
The year 1 students sneered and jeered
and year 2 waited with trepidation.
Year 1 danced first and were well matched.
Year 2 marveled at their movement.
Even the clumsy dancers fell into place
and their linear moves had only minor faults.
It was easy to see the confident performers;
the few who moved effortlessly in time.
They were pleased with their display
and year 2 clapped loudly.
Year 2 waited quietly in position.
Two girls had decided to guide the groups.
They made sure that slip steps didn’t crash
and floor glides did not collide;
that diagonal passes didn’t impact
and pointed the way for weaving moves.
The dance chosen was Black or Galloping Nag.
It was a favourite tune with lively steps.
They touched their shoulders for correct sidings
and saw that armings didn’t swing too hard.
For the figure of eight, or hey-for-three, they stepped steadily.
The year 1 students gave small applause.
For the final dance Miss Flobber said to choose partners.
There were to be only two groups with year 1 choice.
When the tallest and most capable year 1 boy
headed towards the dishevelled year 2 group
there were gasps and frowns from year 1 girls.
He pointed to a competent but stunned dancer.
It was to be the Black Nag folk dance again.
After the head bow at the beginning
that couple moved through the whole routine
as if the student audience was not there,
their gazes were mutually concentrated,
their movements made a pas de deux.
Their actions were completely synchronised.
They exhibited balance and flair.
Their feet moved simultaneously
as if timed by the same occurrence.
The other dancers dissolved into the background.
The audience sat silent and motionless.
At the end he managed a slight smile.
She was momentarily stilled — astonished.
Two dancers had experienced unison.
There was a pause before the loud applause.
The thwarted disappointed year 2 boys kept quiet.
They knew better than to comment about year 1.